Saturday, January 31, 2009

Inkspot News - January 31, 2009

TODAY! Meet Midnight Ink author JB Stanley and many other authors at Books and Bling: A Benefit to Save Creatures 'n Crooks Bookstore
Address: 3156 West Cary Street, Cary Court Park & Shop, Richmond, VA
Time: 1 pm to 4 pm

Friday, January 30, 2009

Fowl Air

The guy who landed this plane deserves The Congressional Medal of Honor, he shouldn't have to pay taxes the rest of his life, and there should be statues erected on both the New Jersey and New York sides of the Hudson. The pilot, co-pilot, crew, and the passengers who stood on the wings in freezing water are all heroes.

But who are the villains in this drama? Sure, you can point to the nimrods who ignore the periodic mishaps at LaGuardia Airport caused by short runways, steadfast in their denial that anything can be done to address the problem. And rumor has it one of the engines stalled a couple of days before this accident, which a more conservative or profitable airline might have replaced as a precautionary measure.

But it was a flock of geese sucked into the jet engines that brought the plane down. As a nervous flier I need someone to blame, so that I can reassure myself this wasn't a result of man's inability to fly, but rather the villainous act of a negligent airline or inept FAA --- or someone, somewhere, fouling the system. I blame the geese.

Now it turns out there is a level of "bird protection" that varies by airport, depending on the runway proximity to wetlands, trees, and so on. And there are a wide variety of deterrents used to keep or scare birds away from planes. But since humans are inherently compassionate and amazingly short-sighted, apparently there are organizations actively trying to protect the birds, not the planes. No doubt these same people get together at Thanksgiving and stuff themselves with turkey while bemoaning the plight of wayward geese. Or perhaps they chow down on a Wendy's chicken sandwich while writing their local Congressman to preserve wetlands near the airport.

A friend of mine suggested the airline mount machine guns on the wings of the jets, just like World War I biplanes. If it works for Snoopy, why not a 737?

But I have a different approach to the problem --- eat the birds. To my vegan friends, listen up, this isn't about you anymore, this is about keeping our skies safe. Geese taste like chicken. So does duck. So does everything if you put the right sauce on it, and that probably holds true for eggplant and soybeans. So you might as well make it a goose-burger next time instead of a veggie burger, since the whole idea of the faux burger is to replicate the taste of cows, which thankfully aren't airborne.

Bon appetit. And while you're at it, have a ham sandwich, too, just in case pigs start to fly.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quick Change Artist

By Deborah Sharp

I balanced, pantless, on one leg in the gas station stall. I prayed my undies wouldn't drop into a puddle I hoped was only sloshed water from a filthy mop bucket in the corner. My blouse hung perilously from a hook missing a screw on the back of the door. A rusty faucet dripped, dripped, dripped into a sink with all the porcelain scrubbed off.

A tale of a sordid encounter from my dating years?

No, just a glimpse into the glamorous life of an author on the road.

I've only been doing this a few months, but already I've learned to keep a straight face when someone asks, "So, are they sending you anywhere exciting on your book tour?''

First of all, ''they'' is me. And while I'm grateful for any chance to talk about Mama Does Time, so far my ''tour'' has been less red carpet and luxury hotels, and more arriving in my pickup truck and crashing on the sofa beds of friends.

The gas station served as makeshift changing room as I sped from a book fest in Stuart, Fla., to speak to a book group a couple of hours south. My truck's cab was packed to the roof with clothes, books, and emergency rations. A bag of honey bell oranges I'd picked up at a flea market alongside the Dixie Highway spilled onto the passenger seat. I looked like the Joads heading west in Grapes of Wrath.

Still, once I'd made myself presentable, it was great to be welcomed into the Coral Springs home of Kerry Cerra on Sunday. She combined two book clubs, twisted arms to get them to read Mama, and invited me to stop by for a chat. Not only were the members funny and smart, Kerry dished up Mama's favorites, fried chicken and pie. (Coincidentally, the author's faves, too!) And, I got to drink beer while addressing a gathering of 20-some readers eager to talk about Mama.

Good food, fun gals, and beer? Okay, not glamorous, maybe. But definitely a glimpse into the great life of an author.

How about you? What's the weirdest place you've gotten ready? Ever tried to pull on pantyhose while driving to a book event? (Guys, if you answer yes to that one, not sure I want to hear about it).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Subcultures, by Jess Lourey

I teach sociology at a small Minnesota college, and this week, we're discussing subculture and counterculture. A subculture is a segment of society that follows their own norms, but those norms are not outside the boundaries of majority society. Think Purple Hat ladies or Trekkies. Counterculture groups, on the other hand, violate the mores of a society and therefore disrupt it. Think skinheads. Or mystery writers.

The lecture got me to thinking about all the fantastically fun subcultures out there that keep our world interesting. Take the subculture of roller derby, a subject brought up recently by a friend who has actually been to a match of this surprisingly popular underground sport. You know--the sport where women (and sometimes men, but we all agree that's not as fun) in circa 1980s roller skates, short shorts, and fabulously tacky names like "Camel Toe-ny" skate around a rink and elbow each other into submission.

The best part of the sport is the names. What would yours be? Mine is Alison Plunderland, according to the "What's Your Roller Derby Name?" quiz. It's not as edgy as I'd like, but apparently I've got more speed than fight in me. I've never actually seen roller derby, outside of a particularly campy Charlie's Angels episode, Death on Wheels:

They just don't make TV like that anymore. Act on, sisters. So what subcultures do you belong to?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


So, I joined Facebook today. Holy smokers! Holy high tech!
Friends are popping out of the woodwork, and it's making me feel all connected and popular.
I'm in deep doo-doo.
(OMG, Facebook's been around like-- 4-EVER! Susan, U R so slow!)
Anyway, Facebook is simultaneously way powerful--Barack Obama has over 4 million supporters on Facebook --and way a potential time waster--all those games and groups. What about online Scrabble? Is there a Milli Vanilli fan club?
I love the chatty sense of community and the pictures, the videos, the wall writing, and all, but I can see that this could blow Spider Solitaire out of the water when it comes to its ability to gobble up my writing-day job-waking hours (add this to gobbling them up all the other low tech ways I'm already using when not at the computer).
But when I am seated at my magic box, mouse in hand, I can fool myself and others into thinking I am writing or working the day job. That's the danger.
"Can't help you right now, honey. I'm at my computer." Note--I didn't mention working or writing--crafty huh? At the computer smoking electronic crack is more like it.

Lately, I've been playing enough Spider to give myself a severe case of button-itis, the disease that George Jetson came down with from pressing too many buttons. I contend it was one button George pressed--the mouse button. (George is believed to have been a closet Spider Solitaire addict himself.)
But this--this Facebook thingy-- it's a GOOD thing.

Let's look at the plus side, Facebook has all this potential for a writer: stealthy and not so stealthy promotion, creating an online writing lounge, online critique groups, fan clubs, a dog lovers area, connecting with people who have drafty houses built before 1930. Wait, those last two veered off a tad.
I'm sure it's productive though, right?

Hey! I just got another friend request, I gotta go...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Welcome to My World

A recent issue of the Washington Post reports that there's good news about reading, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

The newspaper says, "For the first time since the NEA began surveying American reading habits in 1982 -- and less than five years after it issued its famously gloomy 'Reading at Risk' report -- the percentage of American adults who report reading 'novels, short stories, poems or plays' has risen instead of declining: from 46.7 percent in 2002 to 50.2 percent in 2008."

That's great news for those of us who write fiction. Or to paraphrase The Beatles, "In times of trouble, a good book will comfort me. Let me read, let me read."

Fiction has always offered the opportunity to escape. For me, growing up in an alcoholic home, books offered the promise that life could get better. Heck, I didn't know that Jane Eyre was fiction! I thought it was a truth, proof that if a plain girl got a good education she could fashion her own future. (At least to an extent.)

And the best books are those that allow a reader to suspend reality, to give over his/her own self, to step into another world so entirely that what happens on the page is happening in the reader's head as well as on paper.

How do we do that? Here are a few ideas:

1. We evoke the five senses. We include sensory detail that helps the reader experience what our characters are feeling. Most easy to overlook, and the most powerful is the sense of...smell. Yep. It's the one sense that will most effectively and accurately evoke a memory. But it's one that writers often skip. Here's a tip from Anne Perry: She goes over her work (doing an editing pass) and consciously looks for places to include the sense of smell.

2. We seek universality. Nancy Pickard gave a wonderful presentation at The Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave where she examined powerful openings. The commonality? Each opening portrayed a univeral experience which acted as a hook for the reader. What constitutes a universal experience? For example, have you ever been taken to task unfairly? Have you ever been curious? Have you ever felt powerless--or alone? These are human conditions which we've all experienced. (And if you haven't, you need a reality check.)

3. We choose our words carefully with our eyes and ears as well as our brains. For example, I could say "the rain hit the window." That's fine. But if I vary the verb and say "the rain splashed the window," I appeal to the reader's eye AND ear. "Splash" with its descending letter "p" (which reminds us that the raindrops run DOWN), and its onomotopoeic sensibility both looks and sounds like the action I'm describing.

4. We make it easy when we can. Jeff Deaver explains that he carefully chooses memorable names for his characters because these monikers make it simpler for readers to remember who is who. So, Lincoln Rhyme is no accident.

How do you invite your reader into your fantasy world?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Make Mine a Guinness

by Felicia Donovan

In my last Black Widow tale, Katie Mahoney switches from her beloved scotch which she clearly had an occasional problem with, to a variety of beers. "Less alcohol, more water. My version of a health food kick," she is overheard saying.

Several readers commented about Katie's sudden abandonment of the mighty grain. Trouble was, I don't drink the hard stuff so finding new varieties meant lots of research. You know what they say...write what you know. Well, it just so happens...

My characters, for the most part, are a responsible lot. They don't drink and drive. They suffer the next morning to an appropriate degree. I think it gives them an added dimension and the fact that Katie is on her own personal brew tour means I just may have to do a lot more research.

Women and beer? You betcha! In the course of doing said required research, I was a bit surprised (and pleasantly so) to know that I wasn't the only brewmistress out there. In fact, I homebrewed for many years. My refrigerator was filled with so many plastic bags of green stuff (hops) that I would have surely been arrested if the wrong person looked in.

I know my ale from my stout from my porter from my dopplebock. I detest lambrics. I know how to pour Trappist Ale so the yeast stays in the bottle. I'll take a craft brew over a mass brew any day. I know which stores carry the best variety and within 25 miles, there's no less than 3 breweries. It doesn't get much better than that!

So what about you? Any other sisters out there who like a "pulled" one? Know your Boddington from your Bass and how to properly pour a half-and-half?

The Mystery of Motive

by Julia Buckley
Once Sandra Parshall posed a question online: "What would make you kill?" Several people answered, both on Sandra's blog post and on mystery forums. There are reasons for people to kill.

Perhaps no author has ever plumbed the depths of those reasons for me better than Fyodor Dostoevesky, who wrote two of the greatest crime novels ever written: The Brothers Karamazov (in which a father is murdered) and Crime and Punishment, (in which an old pawnbroker is murdered).

In discussing these crimes, however, Dostoevsky discusses much, much more. Ultimately he strips away the pretense of humanity. Here are some of my favorite quotes.

From The Brothers Karamazov:

"The stupider one is, the closer one is to reality. The stupider one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence wriggles and hides itself. Intelligence is a knave, but stupidity is honest and straightforward."

"A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest form of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal in satisfying his vices. And it all comes from lying--to others and to yourself."

"The more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity."

From Crime and Punishment:

"Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most."

"Actions are sometimes performed in a masterly and most cunning way, while the direction of the actions is deranged and dependent on various morbid impressions--it's like a dream."

"Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it -- that is what you must do."

"Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Congratulations Tim, Gin, and Sue Ann!

Nominated for the Hawaii 5-0 Award for best law enforcement or police procedural fiction of 2008 was our own G.M. Malliet for her Death of a Cozy Writer.

Nominations for the Lefty for 2008's best "funny, humorous, smiling mystery" included Inkspot blogger Tim Maleeny for his Greasing the Pinata. Also nominated was Inkspot alum Sue Ann Jaffarian for her Thugs and Kisses.

See all the nominees here. The winners will be announced at Left Coast Crime in Hawaii.

Go Gin, Tim, and Sue Ann!


Tuesday. Such an ordinary day. Nothing special. Tuesday doesn’t get a cute nickname. Not Hump Day. Not Manic Monday or Freaky Friday. Even Thursday has Thanksgiving to up its street cred. Poor Tuesday. A Plain Jane of a day.

But sometimes events can make the day stand out. The Bacon Brothers have a wonderful song, “Tuesday.” It tells the story of a husband falling apart when his wife leaves him on what was supposed to be just another day. A Tuesday. A day meant for the mundane: music lessons, dentist visits and baseball practice.

September 11 was a Tuesday, as we all remember. A beautiful day, sunny and bright, until the sky was turned dark by terrorists. A terrible Tuesday. A Tuesday that is forever remembered as September Eleventh.

Tuesday was chosen as our Election Day, just because nothing happens on a Tuesday. It was a day people of the nineteenth century could afford to give up. So we vote, and we swear in our new Presidents on Tuesday.

Voting seems like a mundane thing to do. Indeed, so mundane that many people don’t bother. But as Dianne Feinstein reminded us yesterday, voting is why the United States has an unmatched record for changing power peacefully. Forty-four times. On a Tuesday.

Yesterday was such a Tuesday. In no way was it an ordinary day. The inauguration of President Barack Obama. The day that a man of compassion, generosity and intelligence has reached the highest office an American can hold. An inspirational speaker who calls on us to choose hope, not fear. Who reminds us that mundane things like values, hard work and love can change things.

And so an ordinary man becomes extraordinary. And an ordinary Tuesday becomes the beginning of something great.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day of Service

by G.M. Malliet

Is it just chance that my turn to blog is on Inauguration Day? Because it does seem fitting - we've had a front-row seat for weeks to some of the preparations for the inauguration. Rather thrillingly, we've had the Coast Guard zipping up and down the Potomac River in their fast boats, no more than a block from our house. Bridges into DC from Virginia have now been blocked (and didn't that go over well with the Virginians - we can't even walk across some of these bridges). Chartered buses have been jamming the roads for days now. We've had Air Force jets steadily circling overhead - we're on the flight path to National, so we've been declared a no-fly zone for private and commercial planes. (The sky, at least, is blissfully quiet.)

But it's also been weird. If I walk down our main street, I'm liable to be walking behind some guy with a Glock strapped to his thigh. Take the Metro, and there's someone standing there with a submachine gun.

We could be at war, but we're just trying to get a president safely into the White House.

A lot of people opted out of the whole thing and are spending the four-day weekend elsewhere. I wish I could tell you I am reporting from an undisclosed location, but in fact, in the end, I wanted to feel that I was a part of this occasion (although buckets full of gold could not induce me to be among the mobs of people standing around for the swearing in - we'll watch that on TV from the safety of either our living room or Market Square).

But it all makes me awfully proud - again - to be an American. When Obama was elected, people in Europe and elsewhere said how great it was that America was finally growing up. But ... do you see a lot of black or mixed-race leaders in, for example, Europe? Sorry, because I know this gets aggravating, but I think this is America - once again - leading the way.

I digress. The topic is the Day of Service. Yesterday, as a change from the siege mentality, and wanting at least to be part of the National Day of Service, we joined the volunteers of and local high-schoolers in helping clean up the grim shores of the tidal Potomac. George Washington's Potomac is a beautiful river, as long as you can overlook the plastic bottle caps, tires, and miscellaneous garbage that has accumulated along its shores. You would probably not want to eat any fish you might manage to catch in it. All this a few short miles from the White House. These terrific volunteers couldn't overlook the destruction of our natural resources any longer, and some time ago began helping the Park Service clean up the broken beer bottles, the construction junk, and the ubiquitous plastic.

Here's a small, tiny fraction of what they managed to clear in a few hours - see below. Incredible. Nothing more to say. Just: incredible that we let it get to this. I applaud our new president for getting more people moving on this day to help save our environment.

Obama has a lot on his plate - the economy alone is a fulltime job for a hundred thousand people.

Maybe if we help take care of the planet he can focus more on the rest of everything else.

Monday, January 19, 2009

You First Love

No, not the cute boy in your 6th grade math class. Not the sweet girl who rode the bus with you. I’m talking about your first car! Do you remember what it was? Of course you do. My father’s visiting right now and I just asked him. “1956 Ford Mainline Sedan. Four-door. My grandfather gave it to me. It was gray then and I had it painted dark blue.”

I then asked my husband. “A white 1972 Plymouth Duster,” he answered. “It had 150,000 miles when I got it. I drove it into the ground.”

Yes indeed, there’s a special place in our memory for that first pile of metal, that tank on wheels, that burst of precious freedom.

Was it the car or the fact that we were old enough to drive? Was it the independence we celebrated or the responsibility of being near-grown-ups what we took to heart? Whatever the case, I’d heard from a young age that it was good luck to name your car soon after acquiring it.

I never named my first car. It wasn’t really cool. It was a 1980 Chevy Caprice station wagon. It had wood panels. It was full of dog hair shed from three German Shepherds. With over 100,000 miles, it was the vehicle chosen for trips to the dump, to pick up the Christmas tree, and always, always, to transport the hounds to the vet.

So my station wagon was one of the lamest cars in the parking lot of my private school, where some of my classmates actually drove new Mercedes and BMWs each day. And no, they weren’t just borrowing these cars from their parents.

One day, however, that Chevy wagon saved my life. I made a new driver’s mistake and was hit in the driver’s door. Hard. Only the steel bar in the door kept me safe from being flattened by the oncoming vehicle. A few months later, my mother borrowed my car and was rammed in the same side by a garbage truck. She walked away without a scratch.

Many cars later, I’ve still never had a cool car. I’ve named them (Hailee, Darth Car, The Blue Marlin, Luna, Lynx), but I cannot pass a station wagon without noticing.

How about you? Tell us about your first love!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inkspot News - January 17, 2009

G.M. Malliet will appear on a panel with other Chesapeake Crimes 3 anthology authors at the Urbana Library in Frederick, Maryland, at 2 pm on January 18 to discuss her novel and her short story in the collection. Anthology authors are: Mary Ann Corrigan, Carla Coupe, Meriah Crawford, Barb Goffman, Sasscer Hill, Mary Ellen Hughes, K. B. Inglee, Peggy Jaegly, Clyde Linsley, C. Ellett Logan, G. M. Malliet, Carolyn Mulford, Jayne Ormerod, Shelley Shearer, and Marcia Talley.

On January 24, G.M. Malliet will be part of an all-day mystery event in Middleburg, Virginia, hosted by the Books & Crannies bookstore.

Deborah Sharp will talk about her mystery debut, Mama Does Time, Jan. 24 on the Thrills and Chills mystery panel at BookMania!, in Stuart, Fla. The panel meets at 4 pm. The 15th Annual BookMania! event at the Blake Library lasts all day, and features some two dozen nationally known authors in discussions, readings and signings. Deborah's co-panelists for the mystery portion include Alafair Burke, James Swain, Hallie Ephron and Lisa Unger.

Friday, January 16, 2009


I'm up to my neck in a bathroom renovation. Removing the old brown tile, prying out the shower pan, scraping off long strips of ugly wallpaper, taking out the neon orange sinks and the Formica counter top. All fairly superficial stuff, really.

The bones of the room are still there.

At least for the most part. We're going to be moving the plumbing from one side of the shower to the other, so there was that fabulous day with a sledgehammer, crunching it into the tile and through the wall, ripping out wallboard, exposing copper guts.

At the same time we're working on the new design: carrying this element or that throughout the room; balancing color, tone, and style; judging aesthetic with an eye on cost; and researching -- lots of researching.

Rewriting a book is much like a home renovation project. At least it is for me, the way I write my books. Many of the same things have to be balanced and judged. Decisions about what to keep and what has to go vie with those special touches that end up making the whole thing work in the end.

And yes -- sometimes some bones have to be broken in order to achieve the final vision.

I really envy people who can sit down and write a book and at the end come back to rewrite only in terms of language and scene polishing. Or those who can outline to the nth degree and then actually follow it. Sometimes it feels like my first draft is my outline; I inevitably have major changes in my second draft, and sometimes even in my third. As I make those changes I polish, too, but the process can be an organic, wonderful mess for a while.

As I work on my fourth Home Crafting Mystery, tentatively titled Something Borrowed, Something Bleu, I am under a fairly tight deadline. There is little room for those long rewrites, and as I churn out the words in my first draft I'm doing my best to renovate as I go along. This constant honing feels constricting. Still, it seems to be working pretty well. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be the way I write all my books from now on.

Authors are always asked whether they outline before they write, whether they know the end of the story and write to get there, etc. I'm curious about whether anyone has completely broken the bones of a book and revamped the majority of it, or whether you've ever looked at one of your novels halfway through and realized it contains a fatal flaw? How did you handle that?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Magical Mystery Tour

The economy seems to stink for everyone but bankruptcy lawyers.  Writers whose books are circulating among publishers fear that no contract is forthcoming.  Those who are delivering a manuscript to fulfill a contract fear that it's their last one or that the advance on the next one will plummet.  I'd guess all this means that some of us will miss Sleuthfest, Left Coast Crime, ThrillerFest, Bouchercon, and the other fantastic writers' conferences that are on the 2009 calendar.  Nothing can compare with kvetching about agents or publishers or reviewers with a bunch of authorial friends in a cozy bar in the wee hours.  But.... the ostensible reason we go these conferences is to listen to other writers and learn (or steal) from them.  The bigger the name the better.

Well, I want to offer an alternative to those who are not going to be winging off to Florida, Hawaii, New York, or Indianapolis for conferences this year.  iTunes.  Interviews with authors of the crime fiction ilk abound there.  Just in the past few weeks I have listened to Robert Harris, Daniel Silva, Lisa Scottoline, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Andrew Gross, Jacqueline Winspear, and Steve Berry on B&N's Meet the Writers.  I caught Lee Child expounding with Nancy Pearl on Book Lust.  Mary Higgins Clark showed up on the NPR Books Podcast on New Year's Eve.  Long-time Washington Post Editor Leonard Downie discussed his new thriller on his alma mater's book podcast.  Rochelle Krich gave up some of her writing secrets on XM Radio's Writers on Writing as did Robert Crais, George Pelecanos, Brad Meltzer, Alan Furst, Anne Perry, and Janet Evanovich.  A treasure trove!

You can listen to these fabulous scribes on your PC, iPod, or cellphone anytime, anywhere.  If you've got iTunes already, you are set.  Just do a search by authors' name or on "Meet the Writers," "Book Lust," "NBR Books," "Washington Post Book World," or "Writers on Writin" in the iTunes Store.  If you don't have iTunes, click here and download it to your PC or Mac.  Then search as above.  You can set up your own virtual writers' conference with a not-too-shabby cast.

Oh, yeah.  You weren't going to see these folks at a conference because of the economy.  What about paying for all these podcast downloads?  Good news.  They are FREE!  Off you go on your no-cost 2009 lousy economy magical mystery tour.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


A while back during a panel at a mystery conference, the question was asked, "What's your favorite weapon?"

The other writers called out the usual suspects --- shotguns, palm-sized automatics, poison, knives, even the disappearing icicle-knife --- all tools of the trade for a respectable mystery author. When the moderator got to me, all I could think of was "a toaster".

The audience looked bemused, the moderator scowled, and the other writers inched their chairs closer to each other. But since I'd just written a scene in which someone gets killed by a toaster (you'll have to read the book), it was top of mind. In my latest novel, Greasing The Piñata, there's a bipolar drug lord with sadistic tendencies who enjoys killing people with deadly animals. Cuddly buggers like scorpions, box jellyfish, and the nefarious candirú fish, which can swim up a man's --- well, you'll have to read the book.

Which might explain why a toaster seemed like a relatively safe bet, and also why my friends think I need therapy. But it does make me wonder, what's your weapon of choice?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gimme a ''Mama'' To Go

By Deborah Sharp

This is how I imagine it might happen at little Gladys' diner in Okeechobee, Fla.

"Hey Bertie, how 'bout a cup of coffee, a slice of pie . . . and what the heck? I'll take a Mama Does Time while you're at it.''

With the kind encouragement of the good folks at Gladys', I dropped off a box of books for sale there last week. The down-home diner makes a cameo in Mama, and they seem pleased at the recognition. It helps that everyone in the book adores the restaurant, and nobody gets offed by tainted biscuits and sausage gravy.

As a newbie author, I'm trying to swim outside the usual promotional channels: bookstores, conventions, library gatherings. It's a challenge. I'd like to claim a grand business plan involving synergy, product placement, and marketing platforms. But the truth is Gladys' wound up in the book because I like the food and their cool, 50s-era sign. It fits in Himmarshee, Fla., my made-up small town based loosely on Okeechobee.

If I were a marketing genius, I wouldn't have set my Mace Bauer Mystery series in a part of Florida with no bookstore and more cows than people. But that's a topic for another day.

I'll keep you posted on the Great Gladys' Experiment. But meanwhile, I'm curious about other unusual sales venues. Any authors out there market their books in out-of-the-ordinary ways? Readers, what's the strangest place you've ever bought a book?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Six-Year Old Misses Bus, Drives Himself to School

by Felicia Donovan

The phone rang at 6AM. I didn't even have to look at the Caller ID to know who it was.

"Write this down."

That's how my conversations with my CYBER CRIME FIGHTERS: TALES FROM THE TRENCHES co-author, Kristyn Bernier, often start. It means Kristyn is driving into the station and when Kristyn drives, she thinks.

"I just heard about a kid who missed the bus and drove himself to school."

"So what?"

"He was only six-years old."

I immediately jumped onto Google and found this article.

Sure enough, this little guy from Virginia whose mother overslept, took the keys to the family's 2005 Ford Taurus, hopped into the driver's seat and took off. He got almost six miles and was within two miles of his school before driving off the road and hitting a utility pole. The boy, who was evaluated at a local hospital for a bump on his head and released, made it to school after all - this time in a police cruiser. His parents have been charged with child endangerment.

"Unbelievable," I said.

"We'll put it in CYBER CRIME FIGHTERS 2," Kristyn said.

Not making the connection, I asked "Why?"

"Read the whole article," she said.

And there it was.

"The boy told police he learned to drive playing Grand Theft Auto and Monster Truck Jam video games."

OMG. Video games have evolved to the point that even the military uses them in simulation training. Really, that's what a simulator is - a big, expensive video game where grownups can practice real life adventures without getting hurt.

I'm relieved that the little boy was not seriously injured and the story is not without its lighter side. I can imagine the look on the other drivers' faces when they caught a glimpse (if they could even see him) of the young Dale Earnhardt, Jr, but then I was thinking about a few other things like the skills a lot of these video games teach. Driving? I'd prefer the traditional route of Dad handing over the keys at age 15 and trying to stay calm as you backed up over curbs while attempting to parallel park. But what about the other "skills" these games teach, like shooting, fighting, maiming and stealing cars?  Yup, our kids are learning a lot from these games, that's for sure. The proof is in that little boy.


They say the first step to changing a bad behavior is facing it, admitting it. So, here's my confession: Hello, my name is Susan, and it has been one year since I have written anything significant.
I've talked about it and diddled around with maybe 100 words at a pop. This has gone on for at least the last twelve months. Okay, fourteen.

Most of the folks on this blog sneeze and a hundred words hit the paper. But for some reason, this past year and this book and this all-or-nothing personality of mine have conspired to create a wee bit of some kind of er, ummm…, BLOCK!
There, I said it. And I do NOT believe in writers' block.

Here's the thing: I want to write. I plan to write. It's what I feel I'm on this planet to do. Honest. But every day, I don’t. I can make enough excuses to fill a dozen blogs, let alone this one. The truth is, I've procrastinated because writing is hard, and it doesn’t pay well at this point in my career. The odds are that it will never pay well.

The pay well part is important because I am largely motivated by financial recognition and furthermore, I like to eat.

But here's what happened. The receptionist at my doctor's office left me a voicemail last night. She had just finished my second book, Little Shop of Murders. After the various and sundry appointment information, she launched into a gushing riff on how much she loved Little Shop.

This morning I called to change my appointment. She called my book the best book she'd read in a long time. She proceeded to say that she stayed up until 4:00 AM finishing it. She said that what she loves about my books is that they are funny with a good mystery, but that there is something about them that is just a tiny bit sad underneath. No one else has gotten that yet, but I meant for it to be gotten.

And she asked that I put her first on the list for the next book.

I am bottling that phonecall and putting it on a shelf in the writers' room in my head. I'll take a sip every day and use it to inspire me to get back on track. 2009 will bring another book. I swear.

Anyway, eating is overrated.
So, what keeps you guys going?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year! A Countdown to Hope

Happy New Year! It’s been a rough twelve months, hasn’t it? My joy at having Paper, Scissors, Death published to glowing reviews has been mediated by the continuing bad news about our global economy, our environment, plus the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Gaza.

When my husband suggested we take our son and his girlfriend and spend New Year’s in New York City, I thought it’d be the perfect diversion. Plus, I could strike another item off my personal “bucket list.”

Folks have been celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square (named for the New York Times newspaper) since 1904. Then a city-wide ban on fireworks heralded the need for a new tradition. So NYC decided to drop a “time ball.” The first ball fell in 1907 from a flagpole, and the ceremony has been repeated every year except when wartime forced a “dim-out” in 1943 and 1944.

For security reasons, the NYPD begins to cordon off the blocks around Times Square at 4 p.m. on New Year’s Eve day. Hour by hour, the police keep extending the barricade, as bomb sniffing dogs patrol the area. No backpacks or liquor are allowed inside the cordoned space. We arrived in New York City at 3 p.m. the afternoon of December 31, and our taxi had to drop us off three blocks from our hotel. The crowds were already forming in front of Times Square, but we didn’t join them standing out in the cold. My husband had done his research. He had learned that by getting reservations to Carolines Comedy Club on Broadway, we could stay inside until the countdown and then step out onto the street and watch the ball drop.

At 11:58, we walked outside and faced Times Square.

At 11:59, the ball began its descent. This year a new ball was unveiled. It’s a 12-foot geodesic sphere (double the size of previous balls) weighs 11,875 pounds and is covered in 2,668 Waterford Crystals.

You can watch a great video of this year's ball drop at

But what I can’t share with you is the raw emotion the ceremony evokes. As I shouted out, “Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one!” my spirit took flight. My voice was just one. But I was one of many. Around me were all sorts of accents, all sorts of faces, and each of us wore the same expression, I’m sure. A look of hope. I stood there teary-eyed, hugging my son, his girlfriend and my husband. I saw strangers doing the same—grabbing those they loved and embracing. People clapped each other on the back and yelled, “Happy New Year!” And for those brief minutes, standing there in the cold on a crowded street in New York, I thought to myself, “It’s going to be okay. It really is.”

How did you spend your New Year’s?

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Resolution: Save A Book Store

Nope, I'm not going to talk about resolutions. I'm going to use this space to beg you to read the news post and call in to Creatures 'n Crooks with your phone order.

This lovely feline's name is Hamilton and he's the live-in shop cat. We can't have him growing lean, now can we?

On a lighter note - I have been astounded by the support I've received from the writing community when I sent out a few emails asking for book donations. The mailman is not pleased, byt hundreds of books have landed on my doorstep, along with little notes for the book store owner and well wishes regarding the benefit. From bestselling authors to self-published, small-press unknowns, the authors have been generous and kind.

Am I proud to be a struggling writer today? Hell, yes! I was last year too, but it took this event to make me realize the connection between writers. It crosses sales number lines, genre lines, socio-economic lines and comes down to one, simple truth: We all love books. We write because we love them and we want to produce the best ones we can. Then, we want to show up at books stores just like C 'n C and sell them like crazy.

There isn't a lot of money in this game. There's no glamour. But there's this network of incredible people and they make it worth the blood, sweat, chocolate-binges, and tears. Thanks for letting me go all gushy on you!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Inkspot News - January 3, 2009

Join Midnight Ink authors J.B. Stanley and G.M. Malliet at Books and Bling - a "keep the lights on" event being held January 31 at Creatures 'n Crooks Bookshoppe, Richmond, VA. In fact, the event runs through the entire month of January. From the C 'n C Web site:

Over 100 authors from across the country have contributed to the incredible reader reward prizes to be given away throughout the month of January. That’s right! Whenever you shop at Creatures ‘n Crooks, you have a chance to win a fabulous prize! Prizes will be given out each week and you’ll never know which reader will receive a reward! (This includes phone customers). Reward prizes include signed books from authors in the field of mystery, fantasy, horror, nonfiction, and children’s fiction.

Contributions include a vampire basket from Charlaine Harris, a character donation from Margaret Maron, gold and sapphire earrings from Denise Swanson, a Carolyn Hart basket, a culinary basket with goodies from Joanne Fluke, a historical mystery book prize including a vintage Tiffany necklace, a fantastic fantasy book crate with signed books by George R.R. Martin and much, much more.

Some of the authors attending the January 31st event are Katherine Neville, Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, Maria Lima, Ellen Byerrum, Andy Straka, Joseph Guion, John Gilstrap, Austin S. Camacho, Maggie Stiefvater, Kristy Tallman, Dennis Danvers, Elizabeth Blue, and Tee Morris. We’ll all be there to shower you, the reader, with attention and prizes!